Riders prepare to conquer 'the hill'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 31 December, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 31 December, 2004, 12:00am

It's just 2.2 kilometres long but riders are already quaking with fear at the prospect of climbing the one hill that could make or break their hopes as attention turns to the hilly Coloane sixth stage, the penultimate leg of the Tour of South China Sea today.

Known simply as 'the hill', previous Tours have been won and lost during this punishing stage.

Rising several thousand feet above sea level, the 2.2km climb is the tortuous last part of today's 90km, 10-lap race around the rolling hills and picturesque countryside of Coloane Island.

Fittingly, the statue of the Goddess A-Ma greets riders at the end of the climb, which is as steep as one in five gradient in some parts, providing an energy-sapping, lung-bursting finale.

It's also the only stage in which riders have to climb uphill to the finish. Last year, even the fittest competitors were left sprawling on the ground in exhaustion, gasping for breath after their hellish climb.

'It's certainly hard. A lot of riders don't like it because it's so tough. I am prepared for it and I will do my best,' said Hong Kong number two Derek Wong Ngai-ching, who is placed second overall in the Tour. 'I think I will do OK. I'll reserve some energy for it,' he said.

Last year, Hong Kong's four-time Tour champion Wong Kam-po, a noted hill climber, failed to strike a blow in the same stage after using most of his energy while trying to build a lead.

Wong actually looked as if he could pull it off after breaking away from the peloton with two other riders and building a 24-second lead. But his lead quickly disappeared as the main group of riders joined in the chase for one huge effort up the last hill.

Wong's final challenge petered out in the last kilometre as rider after rider swept past him at the finish, his hopes of the title vanishing before his eyes. He eventually wound up in 12th position in the race, which ended his hopes of winning the Tour. He finished second overall last year.

He won't be making the same mistake again as the 31-year-old gets his first real chance of turning the tables on overall Tour leader Masahiko Mifune in the stage he has won three times before.

'I spent too much energy trying to get in front of the peloton last time and left little in the tank for the massive climb. I will be conserving some energy for it this time and hopefully I will get a better result,' said Wong, who is still in fifth place overall, some 42 seconds adrift of Mifune after finishing third in yesterday's fifth stage in Zhuhai.

The stage was won by Danish rider, Max Nielsen, winner of Wednesday's fourth stage in Zhongshan. Nielsen proved the strongest over the line as he outsprinted the field to win in a time of two hours, 31 minutes and 13 seconds.

Russian rider Sergey Kudentsov of the Moscow City Sports Association gained another podium finish by coming home in second place, just ahead of Wong Kam-po.